HP EliteBook 8730w Review

by Jerry Jackson Reads (135,091)
  • Pros

    • Extreme performance
    • DreamColor display is very nice
    • Reasonably thin and light
  • Cons

    • DreamColor display is pricey
    • Third touchpad button
    • Poor speaker location

by Jerry Jackson

The HP EliteBook 8730w is the largest workstation in HP’s current lineup of business notebooks. Featuring the latest Intel processors and Nvidia Quadro graphics and available with HP’s exclusive 17-inch “DreamColor” display, the EliteBook 8730w might be a graphics artist’s best friend. We took a closer look at this desktop replacement mobile workstation to see if the system performance and color quality of the screen are as good as HP wants you to believe. Read on to find out if the EliteBook 8730w deserves a place in your office.

Our review unit of the EliteBook 8730w features the following configuration:

  • Intel Core 2 Extreme QX9300 Processor (2.53GHz, 12MB L2 cache, 1066MHz FSB)
  • Microsoft Windows XP (downgrade from Windows Vista Business)
  • 17.0-inch WUXGA+ anti-glare DreamColor display (1920 x 1200)
  • 1GB NVIDIA Quadro FX 3700M Workstation GPU
  • 4GB DDR2 800MHz RAM (2 x 2GB Configuration)
  • 250GB 7200RPM HDD
  • Blu-ray burner and DVD+/-RW Optical Drive
  • 802.11 a/b/g/n Wi-Fi, Ethernet, Modem, and Bluetooth Connectivity
  • 8-Cell 73WHr Battery
  • 3-Year on-site Warranty
  • Dimensions: 1.3″ x 15.5″ x 11.1″
  • Weight: 7.5lbs
  • MSRP: $4,958 ($4,065.56 at time of writing with 18% instant discount)

The 8730w starts out at $1,699 but more powerful configurations top out at $4,879.00 after instant discount.

Build and Design
The HP EliteBook 8730w is a business workstation notebook, which means the 8730w has to meet very specific requirements for performance, durability, power consumption and a host of other features. In every case the EliteBook line meets or exceeds those standards, so you can rest easy that the price you pay for this notebook is money well spent.

The main body of the laptop is covered in the “HP DuraCase” and “HP DuraFinish” which is essentially a hard plastic and strong magnesium alloy inner shell much like its predecessor strengthened by a brushed aluminum outer shell that is scratch resistant (but not scratch proof). The entire chassis from the base to the screen lid feels exceptionally strong and resistant to flex when heavy pressure is applied. The keyboard is almost completely rock solid except for some minor flex on the dedicated number pad directly above the optical drive.  Although I never recommend doing this, you could throw this notebook across the room and it would likely survive unharmed.

The outer shell of the screen casing is made of metal, but the inner screen bezel is plastic. HP says that this mobile workstation “has been tested and meets the military standard MIL-STD 810F tests” so this notebook is built to last.

Additionally, the 8730w also features hard drive shock protection in the form of the new HP 3D DriveGuard which will help to protect your hard drive in the event the laptop gets dropped or violently bumped … or smacks into a desk because an editor wasn’t paying enough attention. You can also configure the 8730w with a solid state drive (SSD) if you need extreme speed and resistance to vibration.

Despite the rugged durability built into the design the weight of the 8730w is perfectly reasonable compared to other 17-inch workstations. If you didn’t already notice, the EliteBook 8730w tips the scales at seven and a half pounds but a similarly equipped workstation such as the Lenovo ThinkPad W700 weighs in at more than eight pounds. In any case, this is clearly a desktop replacement system so most people won’t be too concerned about the weight of this notebook.

Finally, in the same way that the gray and black exterior and smooth design suits a professional environment, so do the internals. The EliteBook 8730w uses two simple plastic covers on the bottom of the notebook (each held in place with standard Phillips head screws) so that the user or your IT department can easily access the hard drive, wireless cards or RAM for fast upgrades. The optical drive can also be removed and replaced with a second hard drive or SSD if you need more storage. The bottom of the notebook also features a dedicated docking station port, external battery port, and a convenient place to store your business card.

Screen and Speakers
The 8730w comes equipped with your choice of a standard 17.0″ anti-glare widescreen display or a “DreamColor” RGBLED backlit screen with an 8-bit panel that can display 16.7 million colors … quite a bit different than the desktop DreamColor displays that support over one billion active colors—64 times the colors supported by traditional LCDs.  The screen brightness is rated at 300 nits and the contrast ratio of 800:1 make this screen extremely viewable under direct sunlight. At 1920 x 1200 resolution, this high-definition display is capable of displaying the finest details in workstation applications like Maya, CAD, 3dsMax, and more. Or course, you can also enjoy this extra resolution for 1080p movies when you use the Blu-ray optical drive.

When viewing the screen from straight ahead, colors are rich and the contrast is excellent. High-definition movies (compliments of the Blu-ray drive) are absolutely stunning.  Horizontal viewing angles are almost as impressive, and the vertical viewing angle from above is likewise impressive. The only time the screen starts to disappoint is when you view it from below … but the overwhelming majority of users will never view the screen in this way.

 

The speakers on the 8730w are pretty impressive for a business notebook, but consumer-oriented 17-inch notebooks with dedicated subwoofers produce better sound quality that what comes out of the speakers in this mobile workstation. Since the speakers are located on the front edge of the notebook the sound isn’t being directed up and toward the user when the EliteBook is used as a laptop. In fact, our staff usually refers to laptop speakers with this type of placement as “crotch speakers” because the speakers are directing sound to your waist rather than your ears. If you’re using the 8730w on your desk this isn’t a problem, but if you’ve got this massive notebook on your lap then the audio will be muffled because of poor speaker placement.

The headphone jack on the 8730w works well with the two different brands of earphones I used during the test. No static or other noise was noticed through the jack besides imperfections in the audio source itself.

Keyboard and Touchpad
The full-size keyboard on the 8730w is nice and large and features the new “HP DuraKeys” which is a highly durable textured finish applied to each key have a nice matte appearance and prevents the “shine” that appears on old keyboards after the buildup of dirt and oils from your fingertips.

The layout of the keyboard is just slightly different than what you might find on the HP consumer notebooks. The individual key presses are quiet without loud clicking sounds as you type.  Keys are flatter and have less space in between them. Overall the keyboard layout is extremely nice for a 17-inch desktop replacement.

Above the keyboard also rests a series of touch-sensitive media buttons similar to what you find on HP consumer notebooks.  There is an Info, Wi-Fi Toggle, Presentation Mode, and Mute touch buttons on this glossy strip.  Additionally, next to the Mute button is a volume control slider that enables the user to raise and lower the volume by sliding their finger across that area.

The touchpad also features the DuraFinish so that oils from your fingertip don’t build up on the surface and make the touchpad look weathered after just a few months. The Synaptics touchpad is very responsive to my touch, and the three rubber mouse buttons are quiet and about the right size.  There is also a secondary set of mouse buttons above the touchpad to work with the pointstick that comes with all 8730w’s.  The pointstick is amazingly accurate and comfortable to use.

The only negative we experienced with the touchpad interface on our review unit is that the arrangement of the rubber touchpad buttons made it easy for me to press the wrong buttons. Since there is a third touchpad button I often found myself pressing the middle button rather than the left or right buttons I was trying to press. This isn’t a major problem, but it was frustrating enough to make me use an external mouse while I was finishing this review.

Speaking of which, I would have also liked to see a dedicated touchpad disable button (like the ones HP uses on their consumer notebooks) so that you can disable the touchpad if you’re using the pointstick or an external mouse.

Ports and Features

The 8730w features a good number of ports on all sides, so let us take a brief tour …


Left side: Here we see the security lock slot, heat exhaust, power jack, HDMI port, VGA port, USB, FireWire, an ExpressCard/54 slot and a smart card slot.


Right side: eSATA port, three USB ports, Blu-ray optical drive, Ethernet and modem port.


Rear side: The battery and heat exhaust.


Front side: The only ports on the front are the headphone jack, microphone jack and multi-card reader.

Bottom side:

Also, on the underside there is a docking connector and the second battery port.  Both RAM slots are accessible from the bottom under the RAM access cover.

Performance and Benchmarks

Our EliteBook 8730w came with the Intel quad core QX9300 processor, clocking in at 2.53GHz, and jammed packed with 12MB of cache. For graphics, HP included an Nvidia Quadro 3700M series video card with a full 1GB of GDDR3 memory. A fast 250GB 7200 RPM hard drive was also included, which helped applications load without much lag. This workstation consistently exceeded our expectations, thanks in large part to the workstation-class GPU. Serious users will find this machine packs plenty of power for even the most demanding tasks, and “normal” users who are only concerned with working in Microsoft Office and encoding the occasional video for work will have more power than they know what to do with it.

With that said, let’s jump into the performance benchmarks.

wPrime processor comparison results (lower scores mean better performance):

Notebook / CPU wPrime 32M time
HP EliteBook 8530w (Intel Core 2 Extreme QX9300 @ 2.53GHz) 15.701s
Lenovo W700 (Intel Core 2 Extreme QX9300 @ 2.53GHz) 15.771s
Dell XPS M1730 (Core 2 Extreme X7900 @ 2.8GHz) 29.477s
HP EliteBook 8530w (Intel Core 2 Duo T9400 @ 2.53GHz) 30.919s
Dell Studio 17 (Core 2 Duo T9300 @ 2.50GHz) 31.574s
Dell Precision M6300 (Intel Core 2 Duo T7250 @ 2.0GHz) 46.797s

PCMark05 measures overall system performance (higher scores mean better performance):

Notebook PCMark05 Score
HP EliteBook 8730w (2.53GHz Intel QX9300, Nvidia Quadro FX 3700M 1GB) 8,672 PCMarks
Lenovo W700 (2.53GHz Intel QX9300, NVIDIA Quadro FX 3700M 1GB) 8,207 PCMarks
Dell XPS M1730 (Core 2 Extreme X7900 2.8GHz, Dual Nvidia GeForce 8700M-GT 512MB) 7,148 PCMarks
Dell Precision M6300 (2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7250, NVIDIA Quadro FX 1600M) 7.070 PCMarks
HP EliteBook 8530w (2.53GHz Intel T9400, Nvidia Quadro FX 770M 512MB) 6,287 PCMarks
Dell Studio 17 (2.50GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T9300, ATI Mobility Radeon HD 3650) 5,982 PCMarks

 

3DMark06 graphics comparison against notebooks @ 1280 x 800 resolution (higher scores mean better performance):

Notebook 3DMark06 Score
HP EliteBook 8730w (2.53GHz Intel QX9300, Nvidia Quadro FX 3700M 1GB) 14,271 3DMarks
Lenovo W700 (2.53GHz Intel QX9300, NVIDIA Quadro FX 3700M 1GB) 11,214 3DMarks
Dell XPS M1730 (Core 2 Extreme X7900 2.8GHz, Dual Nvidia GeForce 8700M-GT 512MB) 8,536 3DMarks
Dell Precision M6300 (2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7250, NVIDIA Quadro FX 1600M) 5,335 3DMarks
HP EliteBook 8530w (2.53GHz Intel T9400, Nvidia Quadro FX 770M 512MB) 5,230 3DMarks
Dell Studio 17 (2.50GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T9300, ATI Mobility Radeon HD 3650) 2,974 3DMarks

 

HDTune storage drive performance test:

Heat and Noise
During normal use (browsing the Web or working on a text document) the EliteBook 8730w remained nice and quiet. However, after watching some streaming video online and after stressing the graphics the cooling fan inside the laptop gets quite loud.  When doing tasks that stress the processor and graphics card, the laptop’s fan works hard to keep this laptop cool.  This is something of a mixed blessing in that while noisy, it helps to lower the internal temperatures and helps extend the life of your notebook components.

Finally, we recorded the following external temperatures using an IR thermometer after running two consecutive PCMark05 benchmarks. This should serve as an indicator of how hot the notebook will get after about 30 minutes of serious use. All temperatures are listed in degrees Fahrenheit. The system gets pretty hot above and below the RAM, but these temperature ranges should be perfectly fine for a desktop replacement.

Battery
The battery life is basically unchanged from the last refresh in which HP claims that the laptop will achieve more than 4 hours of life when unplugged.  During our timed tests, the laptop was set with screen brightness at about 60%, Wi-Fi on, and accessing the hard drive while listening to music files.  The laptop shut down after exactly 3 hours and 21 minutes with 3% of the battery left, which is reasonable for a laptop with so much power.  If your configuration of the 8730w is running Windows Vista then battery life can also be extended via using the “power saver” power profile in Vista or by simply lowering the brightness of the display.

Conclusion

The HP EliteBook 8730w is probably the most balanced workstation-class 17″ notebooks we’ve seen. This notebook is designed more for desktop replacement than it is for mobility, but the 8730w is thinner and lighter than other 17-inch workstations. That said, HP didn’t sacrifice durability when making this machine thinner and lighter.

In terms of overall value, the EliteBook 8730w strikes an excellent balance between price and performance. If you just need a basic configuration for your office then the starting price of $1,699 is pretty impressive … particularly since a ThinkPad W700 costs several hundred dollars more and is bigger and heavier to boot. Of course, for those professionals who need to absolute best performance, the 8730w is available in configurations costing more than $4,000 … so there’s something for almost every budget.

Bottom line, if you’re looking for a 17-inch mobile workstation notebook the HP EliteBook 8730w probably belongs at the top of your list.

Pros:

  • Extreme processor and graphics performance
  • DreamColor display is bright with vivid colors
  • Reasonably thin and light for a 17-inch workstation
  • Attractive and sleek design

Cons:

  • DreamColor display is pricey, but still reasonable
  • Third touchpad button sometimes gets in the way
  • Less than ideal location for speakers
  • Fan can run loud and push out a lot of hot air




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